An Avenham man is following his passion for rugby after giving up the sport as a youngster due to bullies.
Wayne Sharples, who is Deaf and gay, returned to rugby with inclusive club Typhoons RUFC.
Prior to Typhoons, Wayne last played rugby at school in 1991 where he grew up in Milton Keynes. But a combination of factors meant he didn’t enjoy the experience.
“Back then, my mannerisms were quite ‘girly’. I was confused about my sexuality and the rugby boys were really macho,” said Wayne. “They looked down on me and said ‘You look gay’. I didn’t fit in and it affected my confidence.
“I was also nervous about getting involved. I was at a mainstream school and the other players were all hearing. I missed so much.”
With his confidence at rock bottom, Wayne gave up rugby and started to explore gay culture, coming out at the age of 18.
“I went to London Pride, partied, and had the best time. I thought, ‘That’s my culture’, so I embraced it.
“I’d dress up in drag, act camp, and switch between myself and that persona. I loved the attention and having a laugh with others. I did it for a while, then stopped in around 2012.”
Wayne, who is profoundly Deaf and communicates using British Sign Language, moved to Preston 11 years ago and now works as a freelance BSL translator in television.
He picked rugby back up again in March 2018, deciding to join the Typhoons after realising he felt at home playing with other people like him.
“Because the team is gay I feel more comfortable taking part. The players are gay and into sport, so we’re the same, we share the same experience.”
A year after starting with Typhoons, Wayne began playing for Preston Grasshoppers RFC. Nowadays he sometimes appears for both teams in the same day.
Wayne, who is a winger, plays with the help of an interpreter, but admits it can be hard to get all the information he needs.
“In rugby there’s a lot of talking. The interpreter misses things, or there’s no interpreter, so I do struggle.
“To cope, I have to watch everything. My eyes are really tired by the time I go home. I’m always in alert mode.”
These days Wayne exercises every day, and says his teammates can’t believe how fit he is. They even call him ‘Machine’, a nickname that he has expanded to ‘Deaf Machine’.
He now also meets a personal trainer in Avenham Park every week for extra sessions working on his rugby skills.
“With Tom I get more information, the finer details of how to pass the ball. That knowledge lets me go to rugby feeling confident.
“The goal is to improve, working on my tactics through repetition, and ultimately upping my game.”
Even with the extra training, it’s clear it requires a lot of determination for Wayne to play with a hearing team.
“I love rugby, I go there to follow my passion. I always think positive and am determined to put in the effort.
“I know if there’s no interpreter I’ll miss things, but I still show up.
“Playing rugby has made me confident. It’s somewhere I can fit in and has been a great opportunity for me.”
Wayne, who has had thousands of YouTube views signing children’s stories such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, believes more support is needed for the Deaf gay community, especially for the younger generation.
“Schools out there right now have young people who are Deaf and gay and who are being bullied.
“They need to ask a teacher for help and be provided with one-on-one support and information. They need this information as it’s part of their future in the Deaf gay community.”
To see Wayne in action, watch the short film Getting Personal with Wayne Sharples on BSL Zone.
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